Locke impressess in third spring outing

LAKELAND, Fla. — Left-hander Jeff Locke looked very sharp Saturday afternoon against a star-studded Detroit Tigers lineup at Joker Marchant Stadium. In four innings, he allowed two hits, a walk and two runs. He retired 10 straight batters, at one point, and struck out five. Both runs were earned, but the first came on Chris Stewart's throwing error.

"Felt really good today," Locke said. "We've been working really hard between starts. Since the new year with Ray [Searage], just trying to hammer this new delivery down. The results are starting to come to fruition a little bit."

Locke mixed pitches well and was pleased with his arm speed, which stayed more consistent on off-speed pitches. He said that led to getting swings and misses at pitches batters used to identify early and lay off of. And this was a heck of a lineup to face, too: Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez are the first five names on the card.

"There's probably not a whole lot of lineups out there that are put together like that one," Locke said.

The big blast was J.D. Martinez's solo homer with two outs in the fourth. Locke hoped it would be his last hitter, but the batter smoked a pretty good pitch over the left-center field fence.

"It definitely wasn't no cookie," Locke said. "It might've looked like one to him, but I was trying to come in with a two-seamer there and it just caught a little too much of the plate. He's a great hitter. That's what he gets paid to do is crush fastballs."


Locke makes the rotation for the Pirates

By Bill Brink
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

BRADENTON, Fla. — Not even when Jeff Locke passed a group of reporters as he walked off the field at Pirate City Tuesday did it occur to him why they might want to talk to him. Only after he threw another inning in the batting cage did he hear the news.

Asked when and how he heard he had earned a spot in the starting rotation, Locke said, "You just told me."

Locke will be one of the Pirates' five starters, general manager Neal Huntington said Tuesday, joining Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole and Jon Niese and giving the Pirates three lefties in the rotation. The team must choose between Ryan Vogelsong and Juan Nicasio for the final spot; the other will go to the bullpen.

In 2015, Locke tied a career high with 30 starts, but pitched inconsistently and had a 4.49 ERA. He spent this spring perfecting a new delivery, which involves eliminating the turn toward first base and taking his hands over his head.

"I worked really hard this offseason with (pitching coach) Ray (Searage)," Locke said. "I know you can work as hard as you want in the offseason. You don't play games in the offseason. It doesn't count in the offseason."

Locke, a 2006 Kennett High graduate, has allowed 14 runs and 20 hits in 19 spring training innings.

"You can say, well, there's been a lot of mixed results in spring training, too," he said. "People are always going to argue that, no matter what you do. But if you can find the positive out of things, like I always tell you guys, and find a way to take the good and keep moving forward, that's what we continue to do."

Huntington said Locke's past performance, which includes an All-Star first half in 2013 and a 3.91 ERA in 21 starts in '14, factored into the decision and that the team considers much more than spring training results.

"I know he's an easy punching bag in certain circles, but Jeff's been a very solid major league pitcher for us and we think there's more to come, especially as he starts to use his arm side more," Huntington said. "It's going to open up the changeup better. It's going to open up the inner half. He's made some quality adjustments with that this spring and thrown some great pitches."

Nicasio has pitched 15 scoreless innings this spring and struck out 24 batters. Vogelsong has allowed 10 runs, nine earned, with four walks and four strikeouts in 13⅓ innings. Whoever goes to the bullpen will join Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Arquimedes Caminero and Neftali Feliz.

The Pirates will need two additional relievers because it is "very likely," Huntington said, that righty Jared Hughes will begin the season on the disabled list because of a strained left lat muscle in his back. One spot could go to non-roster lefty Cory Luebke, who has an opt-out in his contract soon.

"If he's not going to make the club, there's a sequence of events that take place," Huntington said of Luebke's opt-out. "It's a little bit convoluted, but we'll have to make a decision here in the coming days."

Lefties Kyle Lobstein and Jim Fuller and righties Jorge Rondon and A.J. Schugel remain in camp and are possibilities for a bullpen role. Locke no longer is, and he was relieved.

"You want to be in the rotation, you feel you should be in the rotation," he said. "If you're not in there, it's not your decision, you've got to respect that, whatever direction you take. You want that opportunity. You can't ever give up on yourself. You've always got to believe that you're as good as anybody."

Bill Brink: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Twitter @BrinkPG.


Clark is following his soccer passion, and getting an education, too

By Lloyd Jones

BARTLETT — Cam Clark is living the dream.

Cam is going to college, but he's also able to combine his passion for the sport of soccer with his education. He's a freshman at the Richmond International Academic and Soccer Academy in Headingley (near Leeds), in England.

"I'm loving it, it's amazing," Cam, 19, the son of Nancy and Rob Clark of Intervale said during a recent interview.

The four-year university is listed as "the world's first opportunity for students to earn an accredited American degree; coaching licenses and get development, exposure and opportunity in the European game while playing in a soccer academy in England," on its website. "Founded in 2009, its mission is 'to provide a life-changing opportunity for students as they pursue their American degree while reaching their optimal playing potential.'"

Cam knew as a senior at Kennett High that he wanted to play soccer at the very best level possible. His parents also wanted their son to continue his education.

"I went to a college fair in Maine and I saw that there was a booth for Richmond University in London, so I was just kind of drawn to it because I love England," Cam said, explaining his path to England. "Then, while I was talking to the person there, I happened to mention that I played soccer so she mentioned to me that they had a program in Leeds, and then gave me the director's email. I got in touch with him, and then, from there, I went to a tryout in San Antonio, Texas. This was in December of 2014."

It was three-day tryout in Texas.

"A few days later they emailed me and told me that I got a spot on the team."

Cam is now into his second semester in Headingley. He'll be there for four years pursuing his educational dream and possibly his soccer dream of getting signed by a professional club.

"That's the big hope, that's what I'm shooting for to get signed by a team either pro of semi-pro over in Europe and then kind of go from there and work my way up," he said.

Cam and his mom got an opportunity to tour a number of soccer clubs prior to start of the academic campaign last August.

"My mom and I went over a week before the program started," he said. "The program started Sept. 1 — we kind of toured around to a bunch of different stadiums."

Among them was a tour of Anfield, home of Liverpool, Cam's favorite soccer team.

"We'd gone there last year when I went to visit it," he explained, "and we were able to get into the stadium, and we ran into the guy that brought us into the stadium the year before, and he was like, why don't you jump on this tour. After that we had coffee, and just kind of talked with the announcer at Anfield (George Sephton) because we had met him last year."

Cam admits the program is more than he thought it would ever be.

"I like it because it's a lot more focused on soccer than school," he said. "It's what my parents told me I could never get, it's pretty great."

So what's a typical day like at a soccer college?

"We have training every single day except for Wednesday and then we have classes every day except Tuesday (and the weekends)," Cam said. "Weekends we usually have games. We're just based on a college, we're playing against the academies and low level semi-pro and pro clubs.

"We also have showcase games, which are against pro club academies," he continued. "I was able to play in the one against the Sheffield Wednesday Academy, which are a championship club (in the English League Championship division), that was a lot of fun. And two or three weeks after that match three of their players got signed to their first team."

Cam smiles and said he "played as well as he could" in the match against Sheffield Wednesday. "They were very talented, but it was a wonderful experience."

It's a big leap from Division II high school soccer in New Hampshire to playing at this level in England.

"It's so much higher," Cam said. "A lot more physical; a lot faster paced. A lot of the stuff that they would call fouls over here they don't all over there, so it adds another whole level of physicality to it."

At the moment Cam is one of eight goalies in the program. There are three main teams and there is also a development team.

"I'm on a team with one other goalie," he said. "Even though there are eight of us, there's still plenty of opportunity. They do it well so you get a good amount of playing time."

All but one of Cam's coaches are former professional soccer players.

"Three played for Bradford City (who play in Football League One, two divisions before the English Premier League) and one played for Newcastle (in the Premier League), and another played for Leeds United (now in the English League Championship division) when they were in the Premier League," Cam said.

Surprisingly, Cam has a number of American teammates.

"It's dominantly Americans," he said. "There are a couple from other counties, like we have one from Germany, three from India, one from Nigeria, but then a lot of the other kids who are (from the U.S.) are of a different nationality but they've been living in the U.S. for most of their lives, they're pretty much American."

The soccer program has a dorm on the campus specifically for soccer players.

"All the guys from my program love it, which makes it even more enjoyable," Cam said. "I actually have my own room. There's four people to a floor, I have my own room and I do share a bathroom with one other guy."

Cam is studying international sports management. His classes in the first semester included math, business, a writing class and has stated his FA 2 (Football Association) coaching license class.

"That will definitely help me out after school," Cam said of the license. "I'm pretty sure it's a required course to take. It's a new thing they're starting because last year, it was just, you can do this, but this year (the administration) said, we're giving you this chance to get it."

Cam said as a first-year student he has class in the morning and soccer practice in the afternoon.

"We have class from usually 9 a.m. to noon or from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.," he explained. "We have practice from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. It varies on different days."

Through the program, Cam is getting the opportunity to play in a number of historic venues, including recently playing at Stockport County FC, who played in Division I (at Edgerley Park in a 10,841 seat stadium) in the 1990s.

"They have a team that plays in that stadium, it was amazing," he said.

Cam has also been able to see some of the best soccer in the world first hand.

"My team's coach is also a coach for a Manchester City development team," Cam said, smiling. "He was able to get our team tickets to the Championships League game between Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach (from Germany). It was a fantastic game; the atmosphere was amazing."

In terms of highlights, there have been a few, including earlier this month traveling to Norway for matches over three days.

"Even though the end result wasn't that good, playing against Sheffield Wednesday, just because they are a pro academy was a big highlight for me," Cam said. "Definitely going to see that match at Man. City, and just being able to play over here. To me every day is a highlight because I'm doing what I love, so I can't really ask for more."

Cam would recommend this educational route to anyone who has a passion for soccer and education.

"The commitment is the fact that you've got to go overseas," he said. "I got a little bit homesick like right at the beginning but that kind of went away because I started hanging out with people, making friends. I got a little bit homesick at Thanksgiving because it was the first time I'd missed in my entire life, then I realized I was home in three weeks and got over it."

The school year wraps up for Cam in early May. He'll be home for three months and then return in the beginning August for preseason.

Cam earned All State honors while at Kennett High, but admits his game has improved considerably in the past year.

"I definitely feel like I've learned a lot and developed a lot in the short time I've been over there," he said. "Being over there, I've learned you can't have any fear (in the penalty area) of getting hit and taking hits or giving hits."

Cam's teams plays often twice a week with one being a midweek fixture, usually at 8 p.m., and at noon or 1 p.m. on the weekend.

Cam has become a fan of fish and chips.

"I figured I had to try it since I was over in England," he said, laughing, "and I really liked it. That's pretty much like the only English food that I like to eat."

You can follow Cam online at Richmond International Academic and Soccer Academy (http://www.riasa.org) or on Facebook at (Richmond International Academic and Soccer Academy).

"Usually a day two after the match they post the match report," Cam said. "There's usually highlights, too. And, then there's also a website where they post news and the roster and all that stuff. On Twitter it's (1riasa), and throughout a game they tweet everything that happens. They've got a good system over there."


Meet the Athletes — Camden Clark

Age: 19

Family: Mom, Nancy, dad, Rob, and three brothers, Andrew, Reid and Beckett.

Hometown: Intervale.

Grade: Freshman in college.

How long have you been playing soccer: "I've been playing soccer pretty much my entire life. There was a year where I stopped playing soccer because my original plan was that I wanted to play football in high school and then go on to play football in college (as a kicker). So I took a year where I didn't play soccer at all and just played football in sixth grade."

What was your favorite high school sports moment: "Definitely winning the playoff game against Trinity (KHS, the No. 14 seed, upset No. 3 seed Trinity 1-0). That was just an unbelievable feeling and experience. That is something that I'm definitely going to remember for awhile. First Kennett team to make it to the second run in the playoffs since 1998. Half the kids on our team weren't born yet when that happened."

What's your goal for the future: "My big goal is get signed professionally, wherever they put me and then try to work my way up. My main goal is to get signed. When I was younger, I was like, I want to play in the Premier League (the top league in England) or the Bundesliga (the top league in Germany). I kind of toned it down to a little more realistic. My big goal is to start off somewhere small in Norway, Finland or some of those areas and then try to move my way to the MLS (Major League Soccer in the United States)."

Favorite food: "Pizza. Probably not the best for a soccer player, but it works."

Favorite movies: "I have a lot of them. I liked, 'The Town,' I did a project on that movies for school. I like a lot of action movies and sport movies."

Favorite television show: "'Survivor.'"

Favorite athlete: "Pepe Reina (former Liverpool goalie). I've liked Pepe Reina since he was at Liverpool and I've kept tabs on him when he went to Napoli (in Italy), and Bayern Munich (in Germany), and now back on Napoli."

Favorite sports team: "Liverpool."

Favorite subject: "The coaching course."

Advise for future Eagles: "I would say if you want to play, and you see an opportunity, take it — that's what you can do to get further. That's what I did when I went to Sweden. That's what I did for this. When you see an opportunity, you've got to take it. The big thing is, if you don't want to go overseas, keep talking to colleges, keep talking to coaches, go to camps, go visit the schools, go see their games. Those are all of the things that I did, and when you do that, it shows the coach that you are committed."

Future plans: Get signed (by a professional soccer team).

If you could meet any person in the world, and have dinner with them, who would you pick? "Pepe Reina. Probably Tim Howard (goalie for the U.S. National Team and Everton in England). There are so many athletes I like. I'll say Steven Gerrard (former Liverpool captain and now a member of the LA Galaxy)."


Pirates starter Jeff Locke tests a new delivery

By Bill Brink

BRADENTON, Fla. — When Jeff Locke took the mound last Wednesday, he test-drove a delivery the likes of which he hadn't used in seven years.

After Locke joined the Pirates organization in June 2009 in a trade with the Atlanta Braves, he reported to high Class A Lynchburg. Before the trade, in 10 starts at Myrtle Beach, he was 1-4 with a 5.52 ERA and 26 walks in 45⅔ innings.

"I was 21 years old, new pitching coaches, new teammates, new team," Locke said. "Anything that they were going to want to do with me, I was all aboard. I'd had some rough times in Atlanta as of late, I thought maybe a new windup would help me."

Lynchburg's pitching coach, Wally Whitehurst, suggested a change to Locke's delivery: Stop bringing the hands over the head, and incorporate a turn toward first base, like Luis Tiant or Johnny Cueto, to add deception.

Locke tinkered with that delivery through the minors, through his promotion to the majors in 2011, through his All-Star first half in 2013 and through the inconsistency that followed. This spring, he is trying to eradicate it and return to the way he used to throw.

Locke received some reinforcement in 2012, when Erik Bedard joined the Pirates. Bedard, a fellow left-hander, also had a turn and some deception in his delivery. His presence in spring provided a template for Locke to follow.

But over the years, Locke's release point with the turn became inconsistent. He struggled to pick up the catcher's glove in the split second before releasing the ball.

"I'm picking up the target much sooner" now, Locke said. "I know I had the walk today, but that's just Jeff trying to be a little too fine, like normal."

Near the end of 2015, pitching coach Ray Searage suggested that Locke think about returning to his old delivery. They waited until the offseason — no use trying to fix mechanics on the fly in a playoff race — and worked on it together at Pirate City two or three times a week during the winter.

Locke now steps back and brings his hands over his head, then to his right knee, without much of a turn before going to the plate.

"I love it," he said. "I know that the results said a different thing, but you feel so much better on the mound. You feel like you can throw the ball on both sides of the plate."

The results did not match up: four runs, four hits and a walk in two innings in his start against the Detroit Tigers at McKechnie Field. But Locke threw only fastballs and changeups, and it was only March 2 — though, as Locke pointed out, it's March 2 for the hitters, too.

"You have to look past the results, you have to look past all that stuff," Locke said. "Even when Ray came to the mound, he's like, 'Hey, you got to keep trusting everything you're doing.' Because it's easy for us to want to get away from that."

Consistency from Locke would aid a Pirates rotation that lost A.J. Burnett and J.A. Happ. Locke tied his career high with 30 starts last year, but had a 4.49 ERA. He had his stretches, including a five-start span in June and July where he had a 1.55 ERA, capped with eight scoreless innings July 4 against the Cleveland Indians. But he mixed bad outings in with the good, and did not complete six innings in 17 of his 30 starts.

He has a month to perfect the new old windup and the results were vastly improved on Monday against the Phillies. Locke pitched three scoreless innings, allowed two hits while striking out one and not yielding a walk.

Courtesy of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette